Predicted to grow by 22.5% between 2015 and 2020 to reach £17.3 billion, the British menswear market is currently growing faster than its womenswear counterpart, according to figures recently published by the British Fashion Council. And the increasing importance of menswear to the British fashion industry has been reflected in the development of London’s bi-annual menswear showcase, which held its AW17 event at venues across the capital last weekend.
Now in its tenth season, the former one-day display at the end of London Fashion Week has evolved into a standalone four-day event, which has just seen over 50 designers present pieces from their forthcoming collections to fashion industry buyers and insiders from over 38 countries in a series of shows and static presentations.
Previously known as London Collections: Men (it was renamed this season to London Fashion Week Men’s to again recognise its increasing importance, as well as its equal standing to the womenswear presentations), the event is a familiar feature on the industry’s calendar. But what sets London apart from the other fashion capitals of Paris, Milan and New York is the fact that it showcases fewer big brands, thus allowing emerging creative talents to present their designs.
This point of difference was made all the more marked last weekend, with the absence of some of the big commercial names from the schedule. These included Burberry, who had previously announced that it would be combining its men’s show with its women’s presentation, Alexander McQueen and Coach. However, and in keeping with London’s youthful spirit, many of the most anticipated shows on the schedule were in fact those by relatively new talents - Craig Green, current British menswear designer of the year, debuted his namesake collection as recently as autumn/winter 2013, Grace Wales Bonner, LMVH Prize winner for her Wales Bonner label has amassed, after last weekend, just four collections under her belt, and Charles Jeffrey, Graduate of the Year at the 2015 Scottish Fashion Awards, launched his Loverboy label only two years ago.
Given the tumultuous nature of the past 12 months, and with fashion’s inherent flair for capturing the zeitgeist, it came as little surprise that many of London’s newest generation of designers used their collections to express their feelings about the current political, social and economic climates - protectionism and utility were among the key themes, spelt out both overtly and covertly on the catwalks. However, it was the determination of these young designers in the face of our uncertain times that really shone through. "In such straightened times, creativity flourishes. As it always does,” said Tim Blanks, editor-at-large at The Business of Fashion. “It’s that British thing, the Blitz spirit. When its back is against the wall, that is when London comes into its own.”
This sense of spirit was perhaps most in evidence at shows by two of the British fashion industry’s more established names, J.W. Anderson and Vivienne Westwood. Northern Irishman Jonathan Anderson’s collection featured an abundance of colour and texture. His catwalk was a visual feast, with vibrant oversized knits and ultra-long scarves in cosy crochet among the pieces that captured the audience’s attention. Vivienne Westwood, who closed the event on Monday after several years of showcasing her collections in Milan, presented both menswear and womenswear, with an eclectic mix of colour, pattern and print also adorning her directional, exaggerated designs.
Despite increasing menswear sales, as well as London’s reputation as a hotbed of creativity, it remains to be seen whether fashion’s current focus on the demands of the industry schedule, and corresponding increase in mixed-gender catwalks, will eventually render separate menswear events redundant.